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Referendum Coming In November For Possible New Northern N.J. Casinos

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New Jersey voters will be asked in November whether to approve two new casinos in the northern part of the state, under a ballot question authorized Monday by the Legislature.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, some say new casinos will bring much-needed revenue, but others said it is a big gamble after several casinos closed down in Atlantic City.

"Probably, I'd probably vote yes," said Greg Iannarella of Clifton.

"Definitely no," said Linda Wilson of Pequannock.

It will mark the first time in 40 years that the state's voters will have a say about expanding casino gambling in New Jersey. And it could also have far-reaching consequences for Atlantic City, which has lost more than half its casino revenue to competitors in neighboring states.

On a packed general election ballot that also will include presidential candidates, voters will be asked whether to amend the state constitution to repeal a provision that limits casinos only to Atlantic City. It would authorize two new casinos in separate counties at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.

It doesn't specify locations, but the two most-talked-about proposals are in the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford, where the Jets and Giants play, and in Jersey City. Last year, a proposal was unveiled for a Meadowlands casino complete with retail stores and a rock and roll museum, not to mention 200 card tables and some 5,000 slot machines.

"This is a very historic day for New Jersey,'' said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, an Essex County Democrat and former casino worker. ``In 1976, casinos were approved for Atlantic City. It was a monopoly that existed for many, many years; many people benefited. But conditions change, and when conditions change and you don't adapt, you become a dinosaur and you become extinct.''

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), one of the prime sponsors of the referendum, told WCBS 880's Kelly Waldron the financial benefits from new casinos are much-needed.

"The State of New Jersey needs revenues," Prieto said. "We're also sending a substantial amount of revenues back to Atlantic City, to invest in the Atlantic City in non-gaming."

But Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, a Republican, predicted that three of his city's eight remaining casinos will close because of new in-state competition. Other officials and Wall Street analysts say as many as four could go under because of the new competition.

"Look at my face,'' Guardian said. "This is the face of failed promises from the state of New Jersey to fix my city. There will be devastation.''

Atlantic County Republican Assemblyman Chris A. Brown (R-Linwood) said seven studies show the planned new casino is a bad idea.

"This is not north versus south," he said. "That is the state hurting itself."

Some voters said the new jobs and added tax revenue would be a good bet.

"I think it would be a good thing for the area," said Chris Musto of Lyndhurst. "I think the area would get rejuvenated. We would get some money; some tax money."

Others argued the failure of Atlantic City was the very answer as to why more casinos are a bad idea.

"I don't see that I want that up here," said Wilson of Pequannock. "I don't need it. It hasn't been a successful thing, so no -- and people just go and spend their money that they can't afford to."

"More traffic, more congestion – you know, we have enough already. And it failed in South Jersey," said Pete Bolivar of Passaic. "Why is it going to succeed in northern New Jersey?"

Still, supporters say the new casinos will recapture gambling money that's now going to casinos in neighboring states and help rebuild Atlantic City.

Jeff Gural, operator of the Meadowlands Racetrack, has offered to pay a 55 percent tax on revenue at a casino he would build with Hard Rock International; Atlantic City's casinos now pay an 8 percent tax, plus an additional 1.25 percent in mandatory redevelopment contributions.

"This will provide the funds needed to rebuild Atlantic City into a first-class destination resort while at the same time provide several hundred million dollars for seniors and money to save the horse-racing industry,'' Gural told The Associated Press. "It will also create thousands of construction jobs and eventually thousands of permanent casino jobs and bring dollars currently being wagered in New York and Pennsylvania back to New Jersey.''

The referendum is the result of a nearly decade-long decline in Atlantic City brought about by casinos opening in neighboring Pennsylvania in late 2006, and worsened by others in New York and Delaware.

In 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenue was $5.2 billion; last year it had fallen to $2.56 billion. In 2014, four of the city's 12 casinos went out of business.

The referendum sets up what it sure to be a hard-fought, expensive campaign to sway voters. Guardian said he will spend two or three days each week trying to convince voters in other parts of the state why expanding casinos to northern New Jersey is a bad idea. Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, an Atlantic County Democrat, pledged a similar effort against the referendum.

``We will take this fight to the voters of this state,'' he said. ``It will not be quiet; it will not be cheap.''

Casino companies are also expected to spend millions on ads for and against the proposal.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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